Jay Williams, current Executive Director of OC United, dreamed of a day where people of faith and people of goodwill are united in unleashing compassion all around their city. After years serving in a church context, Jay wanted to create a space where all people, regardless of religious affiliation, were empowered and mobilized to make deep and lasting change in their community.
Jay was approached by Mike Erre (former head pastor of EvFree Fullerton – today referred to as “Fullerton Free”), to pursue that dream with the backing and blessing of the church. Jay Williams, Tim Blied, and Paul Burke began the process of forming the documents to launch OC United Together Ministries.
Jay wanted to bring initiative leaders onto the OC United team who had experience in the areas of need in Fullerton. He approached community members Amy Gaw, Donna Mroz, and Donna Whitman because of their ongoing work in the realms of foster care, domestic abuse, and under-resourced neighborhoods. While working out of a temporary, modular office space at EvFree Fullerton, the team met, dreamt, and strategized the beginning of OC United together.
Amy Gaw had experience and a passion for children who intersect with the foster care system. Amy and her husband Jason volunteered for years at Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) – a camp for children in foster care (organized by the nonprofit For The Children) to have a trauma-informed camp experience full of fishing, crafts, reading, sports, games, skits, an all-camp birthday party. Amy and Jason became co-directors of the EvFree Chapter of RFKC and still co-lead the camp today. Jay asked Amy if she would join the OC United team as Director of Operations and the Foster Care Initiative where she serves to this day.
Donna Mroz was the Director of the nonprofit The Grapevine which provided resources, art therapy, and support groups for women who were experiencing and exiting domestic abuse. Donna Mroz used the buildings at 416 and 418 West Commonwealth Avenue in Fullerton to provide these services to the community. Jay approached Donna due to her experience to be the Director of the Domestic Abuse Initiative – The Grapevine was absorbed by OC United and transformed into the Domestic Abuse Initiative at OC United. Today, Donna still runs domestic abuse support groups for women – 2 in person, and 1 virtual gathering.
Donna Whitman worked for the organization CRU (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) where she ran their CRU Inner City program in Los Angeles. She provided after-school programs to low-income communities in partnership with local churches. Because of her work in that realm, Jay approached her to launch the Neighborhoods Initiative at OC United where she served until 2018.
Whiles working partially as a pastor at EvFree overseeing Justice and Care, Jay launched an initiative called The Church has Left the Building where the EvFree Congregation left the walls of the church on a Sunday to volunteer around the city. The first year was made up of only church congregants, but the next year they volunteered alongside local businesses, organizations, and city government. Jay vowed that “doing the city-wide volunteer day was so much better in partnership with members and leaders from the community and [they] would never do it separately again.”
In 2014, our Board of Directors was elected and started meeting with the OC United Team at The Grapevine.
Jay wanted to include the city-wide volunteer days in the work of OC United – so he searched for ways to integrate The Church has Left the Building into the yearly events produced by OC United. Jay stumbled upon Love Our City an organization in Modesto that provides city-wide volunteer days that empower local volunteers to spread kindness, meet needs, and impact lives. Using this model and with the direction of the Love Our City team, the Love Fullerton City-Wide Volunteer Day ran under the umbrella of OC United in May of 2014.
In July of 2014, OC United received IRS 501c3 exemption approval.
In October of 2014, OC United’s Foster Care Initiative was launched with the leadership of Amy Gaw.
In November and December of 2014, the OC United team (with help from Matthew Jackson, Lisa Gillis, Patrick Liskey, Ryan Oldham, and tons of volunteers) renovated the spaces of 416 & 418 West Commonwealth Avenue where the OC United Office stands today.
In March of 2015, the OC United office was ready. Jay, Amy, Donna Mroz, and Donna Whitman moved into the building.
In April of 2015, The Grapevine joined OC United signifying the launch of our Domestic Abuse Initiative.
On May 17th, 2015 Mike Erre preached a sermon at EvFree Fullerton about God’s heart for the most vulnerable in the community. OC United was featured on the plaza and promoted three original initiatives: “Unite for Foster Care”, “Unite for Neighbors”, and “Unite against Domestic Abuse”.
On May 17, 2015 OC United was publicly launched.
In September of 2015, The United Kids after-school program was launched at Valencia Park Elementary School. This signified the launch of programs for our Neighborhoods Initiative.
In July of 2016, the RESPITE Program was launched – providing resources, education, support, and interventions for trauma-sensitive environments. This program provided wrap-around support for hundreds of foster/adoptive/kinship families throughout Orange County in addition to providing valuable trauma-informed education to the OC United mission, vision, staff, and volunteers.
In August of 2016, the THRIVE house was purchased by Power Plus and donated to OC United. The remodel began promptly after. The THRIVE house provided housing and on-site support to young men exiting foster care. The THRIVE house was formally opened in November 2016 and it’s first residents and on-site mentor were moved in.
In August of 2017, OC United’s Jobs for Life program was launched under its Homelessness Initiative. The first class began at the Transitional Living Facility “Bridges at Kraemer Place” in Anaheim.
In November of 2017, California Lutheran Homes purchased the THRIVE Quad – a 4-unit apartment complex that would become a home to young women exiting foster care and their children (for those who had them).
In January of 2018, HomeAid partnered with OC United to begin the full-year remodel of the THRIVE Quad.
In June of 2018, St. Joseph’s CBI (Community Building Initiative) partnered with the Neighborhoods Initiative to begin the work of community development.
In January of 2019, the THRIVE Quad was opened and its first residents moved in.
In June of 2019, “Voces Unidas / United Voices” of Valencia Park was launched in conjunction with St. Joseph Health CBI.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a new reality – however, the OC United team and its family adapted quickly to the changes required.
Support groups, mentorship, after-school programs and more moved to virtual spaces.
OCU Learn began – a space for children in our after-school programs to receive academic support, mentorship, and relevant activities. Voces Unidas mobilized providing grocery deliveries and food pick-ups to the South Fullerton community – Trader Joe’s of Brea provided a constant stream of donated food items.
Love Fullerton was mobilized in partnership with the Fullerton Rotary Club to create thousands of face shields for frontline, health care workers.
Fullerton Park’s and Recreation Department reached out to OC United to provide community programs out of the vacant Gilbert Community Center. Permission was granted by Fullerton City Government to provide programs out of the center pending a vote by City Council for OC United to be contracted for exclusive use of the facility.
In July of 2021, SOLFul kicked off the programs held at the Gilbert Community Center.
On April 5th, 2022 the City Council of Fullerton unanimously approved OC United to operate a Community Empowerment Center at it’s Gilbert Park facility. Community members from United Teens, and Voces Unidas joined OC United Staff to share how the space was being used to serve the community.
On Saturday, May 14th, 2022, we officially “cut the ribbon” with a Grand Opening celebration of the Gilbert Community Center. The evening included a kids’ carnival, art show, food, drinks, and dessert for all attendees.
In June of 2022, the United Teens went to Disneyland. Our teens were spoiled during their time at the park. United Teens staff member Noemi coordinated with Kayla of Kayla’s Cakes in Downtown Disney who gave us macaroons for the day in addition to connecting with other businesses in Downtown Disney. Because of her, our teens received free pretzels, sodas, and churros. This was an incredibly special experience for all.
*Last updated on July 6, 2022*